Getting Personal

The role of personalization in online learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jason Wright

credit-solid-professorClassroom education has come a long way from one-room schoolhouses and chalkboards, largely due to evolving technology. This change is continuing to transform education with advances in technology being integrated into the classroom. Specifically, perspectives have shifted away from the “one size fits all approach” to education, where every student follows the same generic learning path. Instead, personalized learning has been established as a more effective way to help students reach their full potential.

Personalized learning not only improves a student’s ability to retain information, but also increases a student’s willingness to learn.

Personalized learning is a variety of learning experiences that are tailored to the distinct learning needs of individual students. Also called student-centered learning, teachers who prioritize individual learning needs see greater student engagement and increased retention.

Repetition and Long-Term Memory

Humans forget much of what we learn. One key to retaining information is repetition. However, which lessons need repeating is dependent on the student. There is a significant range in the amount of time it takes students to learn concepts. If students do not fully grasp introductory lessons (especially in subjects where advanced concepts build on fundamentals), then they will continue to fall further behind. By providing students with resources to review materials as many times as they need to, instructors can set them up for success throughout the semester and onto further years.

Each individual student must have the ability to go over the parts in lectures he forgets, at his own pace. With the advent of online instructional videos, students can independently watch (and rewatch) lessons, solidifying learning without slowing down the pace of the entire class. Being able to quickly access and repeat lessons that one has forgotten so that they can apply that skill to their task at hand supports a deeper learning that leads to long-term advances in skills.

Learning Styles

Most learners can be classified as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. Understanding students’ learning style allows teachers to maximize their full learning potential and helps students enjoy the learning process more. Traditional classrooms are heavily focused on auditory, with students listening to a teacher lecture. Many learning technologies and tools provide more options for visual and kinesthetic learners with video-based and interactive lessons.

Often referred to as the “flipped classroom model,” students in this model view video lectures and complete hands-on exercises and quizzes as homework, allowing educators to guide interactive projects during class time. The benefit of this model is the ability to demonstrate real-world applications and engage students with interactive projects.

On Demand Learning

Students learn best when they receive just the information they need, when they need it for any given project or activity. By delivering information when and where it is relevant in a consistent and concise format, educators can provide a custom learning experience that fits students’ schedules. In a traditional classroom setting, students receive information from their teachers during class, then go to do their homework hours (or even days) later. However, immediate application of the information improves retention. For this, digital learning tools are often available 24/7 so they can be used when and where the student is ready to learn.

The Benefits of Individual Tracking

From a teacher’s perspective, individual progress tracking is a scientifically-based practice used to assess student performance and course effectiveness. Real-time progress metrics such as video consumption rate, assignment completion, and test scores allow teachers to pinpoint which students are struggling, and in what specific topics, allowing them to easily identify the gaps in learning before the student gets left behind. On the other hand, if a student is flying through the course material, teachers can suggest additional opportunities to further a student’s mastery of the material. Overall, the use of progress monitoring results in a more efficient instructional path tailored to each student’s needs.

An Active Role

Personalized learning not only improves a student’s ability to retain information, but also increases a student’s willingness to learn. Research shows that when learning is tailored to individual success, students are more likely to take an active role in their learning. Immediate feedback motivates students and pushes them to improve. Meeting personal goals inspires students to envision the possibilities of a brighter future. To ensure more of these bright futures, educators must turn to personalized learning practices.

Personalized education results in better retention, higher performance, and improved engagement. Teachers should now look to technology to help them provide individualized learning to their students.

Jason Wright is the co-founder and head of content development at SolidProfessor, an online learning company focused on tools used in engineering design.

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